tv Tavis Smiley PBS May 10, 2011 12:00pm-12:30pm EDT
tom: good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. first up tonight a conversation with former baseball executive bill white, five-time all-star and broadcast , he's out with a new memoir about his time in baseball, it's called "uppity," the book details his time in the game and the racial tension he faced in the turbulent civil rights era. also, morgan spurlock is here. the man behind projects like "supersize me" and "freakonomics" is out with a new project called "the greatest mue sold." that's coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra help whiz reading. >> i'm james. >> yes.
>> to everyone making a difference. >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley, with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is happy to join with tavis to work with improving financial literacy and boost economic empowerment with every conversation. nationwide son your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] >> bill white was a five-time baseball all-star before his longtime career as a broadcaster and eventually president of the national league. he's out now with a putter -- powerful new memoir about his time on and off the field, it's
called "uppity: my untold stories about the games people play." he joins us in philadelphia. an honor to have you on the program. >> i'm honored to be on your program. i've heard you quite a bit, i really appreciate you having me on. tom: delighted to have you on. for those who haven't read the book, i'm sure they'll want to once they see this conversation, at least that's my hope, this word "uppity" is a pejorative, it's often punitive, it ain't in compliment, yet you've taken it and turned it into the title of your text. why "uppity"? >> because years ago when i was just a youngster, when i signed with the giants, went to the army, came back from the army, and when i got back, i was with the giants in new york they moved to san francisco, and when i got back, we had cepeda at first base and cubby behind him. my family had had a baby, a little girl, while i was in the
army. i wanted to play and i couldn't play behind those two. i asked to be traded. back then you had a reserve clause where, as they used to say, you're a well-paid slave. i didn't have those options. so i decided to demand to be traded and my general manager didn't like that and he called me uppity. i remembered that word. soy decided a couple of year -- so i decided a couple of years ago, i'm going to write a book and i'm going to call it "uppity." tom: in this book, you tell so many stories, i don't have time to do justice to any of them, but you tell so many stories about your career, your life and your time in the national league and the role the race played, it was often a negative role. surmise for me if you, or capsulize for me, how you view the issue of race and the role it's played in your life and career.
>> first of all, i had a really, really proud grandmother. she gave me that sense of being someone. she gave me a history. of coming from africa. we had societies. there. we were brought over here. and how we had to do what we had to do in the south. and she made me proud, the way she talked to me. and then my mother, of course, gave me the at constitute that if you're going to do anything, you have to be twice as good as the person with whom you're competing. i took that to heart. so i got a lot of pride from my grandmother, and a lot of push from my mother. i carried that all the way through, from warren, ohio, where i was raised and went to school, hiram college where i went for two years, then, of
course, playing baseball for 18 years in the big leagues and then broadcasting. actually 14 years in the big leagues, broadcasting 18 years for the yankees and five years as an administrator with the national league. but all i had a lot of pride and always had a lot of confidence, which my brother and -- my grandmother and my mother gave me. tom: what do you do when people confuse your confidence for cockiness? >> i think that's where the word came in with the general manager of the giants when he traded me. and that's all right. as long as you can do it, what difference does it make? and everything i have done, quite honestly, i have been fairly successful at. so you know, they can call it cockiness or whatever they want to call it. i call it confidence and an ability to do whatever you set out to do. tom: but you know a black man in many respects and in many cases a black man even today, much
less back when you were doing it, wasn't supposed to have an opinion, wasn't supposed to be vocal about it, how did you manage that kind of terrain and how did you arrive at this place, with all you endured, without being bit her >> sometimes i think about that i'm not bitter. i think that i sort of -- i really don't know. i couldn't answer that, tavis, except to say that the confidence that my brother and grandmother gave me, that you can do anything you want to do, as long as you give it 100%, they just -- i always smile when i think about them. they were two tough ladies. obviously my grandmother had seen some of the vestiges of slavery. she really didn't like people who were not of color. she hated them. i don't think she ever spoke to them unless she had to. and of course my mother went through, she is from, we were
from a little place in florida, she couldn't go to school. she could have walked to school, but she couldn't go to that school. she had to be bused, trucked you might say, 19 miles to a different place. she was valedictorian of her class. she couldn't go to florida a&m because they didn't have the money so my grandmother was smart enough to get us out of there and move us to warren, ohio, where the steel mills were just starting. and she brought her three daughters, including my mother, her six sons, to warren and in the end, because of her persistence and her toughness, my grandmother, all of the sons married and ended up with their own homes and that's -- that's something to be proud of back then, way back in the 1930's. tom: let me, again, this book is chock full of so many great stories that i can't do justice
to all of them. what i want to do is to throw some names, some places, some people, some things at you and just have you give me a sentence or two about them, whatever you want to say, relative to the text. in no particular order. willie mays. >> great man. i call him my second father. he taught me how to play baseball. greatest baseball player i've ever seen. just a superhuman in my opinion. a super human being. tavis: jacque robinson? >> -- jackie robinson. >> i don't think i could have taken what jackie had to take the first few years. not only that, jackie, i think, was as important to black people and to baseball, but he was just as important to us as i think martin luther king. tavis: was he a better man or a
better baseball player? >> i think he was a better both. you remember jackie was an officer and he had problems in the army. he was an all-american football player. and he had to take a lot of gulf in order to play. -- of guff in order to play. no one wanted him in baseball. the honers didn't want him. his teammates on the dodgers didn't want him and obviously the guys playing against him didn't want him, the cardinals and phillies. he had to put up with that on the field quite a while until he has proven himself to be not only a great player and a great person. i couldn't have gone through what he went through. tavis: you had your share and the book details it. again, aisle pulling out names and places connected to stories in the book. marge schott who had that alleged moment of racism when she owned the cincinnati reds.
>> that was a tough decision to make. an older lady who obviously had some problems and who, the other owners, i don't think, wanted her around, they were probably happy something like this happened so they could push her aside. but when you head an organization like that, you have to deal with everything, we delt with marge schott, we got somebody to replace her. tavis: st. petersburg, florida. >> st. petersburg, they had, as you know segregated housing facilities and everything else when we went down there. the cardinals trained there. we couldn't stay with the team. so the cardinals finally were forced to get a hotel and they put all of us in the hotel and what happened there was that we all finally got to know each other. and this was about in 1962. and we ate together, the kids
played together, the wives knew each other, and it made us a better teap. 1963, we came close, in 1964, we won. i think because we came close. the whites, the gibsons trk everybody were together in that period. tavis: why did bill white heed the broadcast move? >> i wanted to go about 20 years, i had about 18. and the head of the search group for the president of the national league called me, he offered me the job or offered me to come up and interview, i said, i've got a pretty good job, i work 60 days a year, i fish in the morning, go do the game, come back at night and go back and fish again. i don't think i want to do that, i don't want to work 24/7. so he said, fine, then a week later he said, come up and
interview. i went up and interviewed with him. we had a decent interview. and i thought about a change, i'd done everything. i played it, broadcast it, i said why can't i manage it? so i decided to take that chance and i stayed there five years. tavis: barry bonds. >> barry bonds was obviously, he's a hall of famer. he has not been found guilty of taking steroids. and when i played,le of, steroids were not illegal. they weren't illegal when bonds played. i think barry's problem is that he may have had an attitude problem but he was just found, i guess, on one count guilty of whatever. i don't know. but he belongs in the hall of fame if the writers want to put him in it. he's not on the disabled list. if he's not put on the list of
disqualified, by the commissioner, then he'll be eligible, it'll be up to the writers as to whether or not he gets in the hall of fame. tavis: mobile homes. >> that's what i have. yeah. we just brought it back from florida, we love it, we brought it to fish in, we ended up way out in colorado fishing in the san juan river and we just had a great time. we started in colorado and i guess the san juan's in new mexico. we fished all over. i love the motor home but i'm getting too old to drive it. tavis: who has the nicer motor home, you or bob gibson? >> gibson, no doubt. he's got more money. but actually, bob got me started
driving the motor home. i've had a motor home since 1996. and bob, of course, had one longer. but i think we're both getting to the point we're going to start flying places rather than driving those things around tavis: i told you a few minutes ago i wouldn't do justice to this book. it is a life and legacy that's rich and full and well-lived. i can't do justice to this book but i highly recommend you get it if you're a baseball fan or just a fan of humanity. the new book from bill white is called "uppity: my life in baseball, the untold stories about games that pleem play." it is a provocative text. thank you for your time. >> thank you very much. i appreciate it. tavers: up next, oscar-nominated filmmaker morgan spurlock. stay with with us. tavis: morgan spurlock is an oscar-nominated filmmaker whose
credits include "supersize me." his newest project is called "pom wonderful presents: the greatest movie ever sold." here's a scene from "the greatest movie ever sold." >> i want to make a film about product places placement, marketing and tissment. where it's paid for by market and product place. -- placement. it's branded from begin the end, from the above the title author, the qualcomm, it will be married to the film. >> it's redundant. >> in perpetuity, forever. that was more -- tavis: this is the infamous "pitch me."
>> -- "pitch meeting." >> exactly. tavis: tell me what you were doing. >> we tried to get the whole film paid for by product placement and advertising. the people you see me meeting with are from the ad world, the agency world. if anybody can get me companies, it's these guys. none of them wanted anything to do with the movie at all from then we started calling product placement companies, then i started calling companies, the coke the pepsis of the world, trying to get them on the movie. tavis: what's the difference what you were trying to get done in the film versus what we see in the film anyway, every movie, i see product placement, what's the difference between what you were trying to tell us and what really happens. >> ultimately in the film you see the whole thing happen, you see the negotiations, what they want, what the film shows you in a way that never has happened before is how once you start getting involved with a company or brand or sponsor or whatever,
there's a 30% or 50% chance -- it's not a 30% or 50% they'll influence the content, it's a 100% chance. tavis: is there something wrong with that? >> if you want it to have an influence, there's nothing wrong with that. if you want to maintain a sense of direction and creating, it becomes harder. they'll start after you say, that -- i don't know but that tavis smiley beverage sure is delicious. i don't want to see that in the middle of my show. no offense. tavis: none taken. are there examples you came across of where product placement in significant ways or ways we ought to be concerned about really has changed the focus, the direction, the look or message of a film? >> they start to write story lines around certain products.
when "heroes" came out, one thing that pushed me to make this was when "heroes" pushed the nissan rogue into the story line of the show. let the people who write be writers and let those who sell widgets sell them. there's a lot more mystery, you see me cold calling companies, you see a woman from guess say, we will never put you on a billboard ever. then someone from abercrombie and fitch says, do you want us to tell you why you're not abercrombie and fitch material. she tells me, you're pale, balding, mustache, you have bad skin, a large nose, you're not very attractive, you're not in very good shape. she goes down the list of here's why you're inadequate, basely.
tavis: sounds like fun. >> yeah. tavis: how much fun is this for you to like put these people on the spot like this? >> for this film it was such a pleasure to make because the whole thing was fun from beginning to end. i called these companies to make a film that puts the screws to this business in a way that i think has never been done, puts people on the spot but it's a funny movie. i'm giving you your medicine but it tastes like cotton candy. tavis: sometimes you do a documentary and do it with the express purpose of wanting an impact on the conversation that's taking place or that you're creating. what was the purpose of this particular film other than to educate us about it, madison avenue is so powerful. >> hopefully you can throw a couple of little rocks, put a dent in the armor. for me the question is, where do we draw the line. there are school districts selling advertising.
tavis: when you walked autotoday, i expected you to have that on. why didn't you wear your suit? >> had i known, i would have brought the suit with me. next time. tavis: you said you can't -- it can have an impact. >> school districts are selling advertising to make up for budget differences. i think schools should be the place where advertising doesn't encroach upon education. and so literally, how much is too much. do we need to live in a world where everything is brought to us by some sponsor? tavis: all jokes aside, how much work is it for the budding filmmakers to cut against the grain and carve a nearby for yourself doing things like this, how do you get people to support the vision when they're like, morgan, this ain't going to work. >> that happens a lot.
just like you see me having to have thick skin, same thing when you're pitching movies. 90% of the people will say, no, they don't believe it, they don't think it will work. the advice i give to every filmmaker is, be tenacious. you have to want to make movies when people are paying you to make movies or when they're not. you're going to get a lot manufacture noes than yes, sirs. tavis: is it possible for a film to be made in 2011 that has its budget covered spirely or significantly by product placement? >> oh, yeah. we paid through this through marketing. the new bond film will be paid for a lot. especially the big movie the "transformers," the james bond or "thor" movies coming out now. you have somebody that's going
to put that on a can or in a happen preponderance meal or on a t-shirt, it's a lot. but how much of the integrity of the project is being sacrificed that's the question we have to ask. tavis: you raise the question about the integrity of the project. this is hollywood. >> are you saying there's no integrity? tavis: that's what i'm going with. who cares about integrity in hollywood, what they care about is money, whether or not the audience are going to go see it repeatedly, nobody cares about integrity in film. if you were doing a movie, a documentary at on integrity at pbs, cbs, abc, the news division, i get that. but why does anybody care about integrity in fame? it's entertainment, after all. >> i think there's a lot of filmmakers who would say, i want to make art, i want to create something with a lasting impact. if you talk to a lot of filmmakers, they'll say, i'm making entertainment, but i'm making art. this is my art.
hopefully it's profitable, hopefully it makes money but at the enof the day, i want to be remembered for something with artistic value as well as entertainment value. "avenue tar" was beautiful. but "there will be blood" didn't have any promotional tie-ins, i didn't get a happy meal with "there will be blood" on it. i think there is a way to find a balance. tavis: what's the price the consumer pays ultimately if we done strike this balance? >> ult matsly you start seeing entertainment that becomes a commercial, especially in bigger hollywood films, you go to the project, in the middle of the film, he gets out and he says, that new mercedes sl harnedles like a dream. i don't want to go see a commercial. i want to be entertained.
j.j. abrams had a great line, he said i believe in story telling, not story selling. we do live in a world where brands exist, people wear nikes and levis and drive camaros but i don't need it pointed out, there's a new camaro. tavis: it was one thing to see the reaction of people you were pitching who said i don't want anything to do it, what's your reaction now that it's been released? >> it's getting great response from critics and audiences. it is asking that question, bringing that up, how much is too much. i was just at the kentucky derby this past weekend, the kentucky derby presented by yum brands, they're like yum brands, the largest supplier of fast food around the world, kentucky fried chicken, taco bell, i was like, really? it was unbelievable. but that's where we're going.
what the film does a great job of saying, there's a woman, it's her job to sell promotions in school drippingts in florida, she said, schools need to be sacred, it should be the one place where you're free from advertising and the film shows that nothing is sacred. from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to bed, yao a captive audience somewhere and they'll find a way to sell you something. tavis: i love morgan's work, it always makes me think, for that, i thank you. wie see you next time, as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: i'm tavis smiley, join me with with a conversation with diane nash, on the 50th anniversary of the freedom
riders. that's next time. >> all i know is his name is james and he needs help with his reading. >> hi, i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. we're proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a side. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.